Designing a fan-made Return to the Dreamlands #3: Changes. And Spiders.


First order of the day is going over some changes to the encounter cards from the previous two articles, as a result of your feedback. Some things were toned down, others were cleaned up and yet others were completely redesigned. Almost everything in these changes was at least prompted by a comment from one of you, some of it I was even able to just take wholesale.
And once we are done with that, we’ll take a look at another Unofficial Return To scenario as it sits in my design file right now, the one for Waking Nightmare. Arachnophobes, last chance to get out.

Tweaked/Reworked: Chilling Blood

Freezing Blood: Is now considerably easier to remove from the investigator that is affected. Changing it to an activation instead of a trigger means that you aren’t forced to sit through it for at least a turn and also that other investigators can help you with it.
Fogged Vision: Got a major rework. Now attaches to the investigator instead of the location, both for thematical reasons and to better fit into the “Threat area matters” thing that Thousand Shapes of Horror has going on. I also made it affect both investigations and fights, because now that it affects only 1 investigator it needs to be a bit more universal in its effect. It also fits thematically.

Tweaked: Ravenous Hordes

Ravenous Horde: Now allows choosing the asset that is snatched up. I cleaned up the wording on the trigger for the alternate condition and made it also go through the encounter discard pile like official cards usually do. No longer going straight for the highest cost asset does mean this one shifts its primary focus from being asset removal to swarm support. Which is in line with the theme of the set.
Nothing Left But Bones: Like on Freezing Blood, the discard condition is now activated instead of triggered, allowing you to get rid of it before its effect happens if you are really paranoid about it and allows other investigators to help you if passing an agility test is not something you can realistically do.
Surge of Rats: Unchanged.

Reworked: Looming Evils

Leaving all the victory display business behind, this design for Looming Evils goes to the meaning of the word “Looming” and runs with it. Unless you can discard it before the agenda advances, it will spill a doom over into the next agenda. If it gets to do its thing, it removes itself, which fixes the problem of drawing too many of them in big groups due to variance. It does nothing when on the final agenda and that’s a thing i am currently thinking about if i want to fix it or not. I probably should. That being said, Dark Side and No Return don’t actually have a final agenda. And Weaver has enough doom going on already… if you are on the final agenda of Weaver, i would prefer you dooming out to Atlach-Nacha instead of to Evils.
The discard activation is easier to achieve if your deck makes use of the Myriad theme of the Dream-Eaters card pool but even without that it’s a puzzle that can be solved, especially in bigger teams where Evils usually scales harder.

Tweaked: Marauders

Besieged by Pirates: The other card that had a victory display thing going on. Pretty simple change: It now counts doom in play to decide how much you have to pay. This should play fairly different in the two scenarios that it is used in, which is something i always like in an encounter set: Search for Kadath has few, but long agendas, letting Besieged scale up really far and cost a lot of resources. Meanwhile, Dark Side has short agendas, making the Surge more relevant while chipping away at the player’s resources.
This effect hits solo players more than groups, but on the other hand it’s easier for a solo player to have this do very little (by keeping your resource count low) than for a group. So i am fine with it for now.
Marauder: Unchanged.

Tweaked: Thousand Shapes

Scratching Claws: Small oversight that is corrected now: Added a Surge when it would do nothing. That Surge can dig in the encounter deck towards more cards that go into the threat area so the next Claws hopefully hits. Since there are three of these in the deck, adding the conditional surge here does actually do a good deal towards making the encounter deck feel even smaller, something that was a goal of the rework for the scenario.
Grave Crawlers: Unchanged.

Unchanged: Song of Hypnos

I voiced some concerns about memory issues with my design, but responses suggest that it shouldn’t be a problem. So i am keeping it as is.

Unchanged: Dreamscape

I don’t think a single person commented on this set :D I take this as it working just fine!

The Hospital on Elm Street

Alright, let’s talk Waking Nightmare. I really like this scenario and i don’t plan on touching it much beyond what the replacement sets do. So let’s talk about those first.

The scenario uses both Whispers of Hypnos and Merging Realities. Or, as we know them now in the Unofficial Return to Dream-Eaters, Song of Hypnos and Ravenous Hordes.
Song of Hypnos doesn’t change much about how the scenario actually plays, but Ravenous Hordes does put a good amount of punch behind the swarmers in this scenario. Those swarmers? Actually just Swarm of Spiders. This changes how the set works quite a bit from what we saw in URt Thousand Shapes, which i stuffed full of swarmers. With this dynamic in place, the Ravenous Horde treachery will frequently be another copy of Swarm of Spiders and also shuffle itself back. Spider of Leng can conjure up Swarms of Spiders and while it will do so without swarm cards attached, Ravenous Horde can take care of that as well. Surge of Rats doesn’t have swarming yet (it will only gain it through the agenda in Thousand Shapes), which turns it into a surging nuisance that is easy to defeat but of course always comes with another encounter card. In a way, you can look at Surge of Rats as another swarm card. Nothing Left But Bones is largely harmless, but if you are overrun by Swarm of Spiders, you can find it creeping up on you as well. I am a huge fan of encounter sets changing the way they play significantly in the various scenarios they are used in and Ravenous Hordes does exactly that.

The scenario itself has one weak spot that I aim to plug with the scenario specific additions. No, not the infestation bag, i like that one actually. What i want to fix is the usual strategy where you’ll want to purify the bottleneck on the stairs and thus stop the infestation from getting around. Once you manage that, the rest of the scenario is kinda boring because the infestation can’t really spread anymore. My solution to this problem spans 5 cards: two agendas and 3 enemies. The two agendas replace the final agenda of the original scenario:

For reference, here’s the original agenda on ArkhamDB:

So rather simple: I split the agenda 3a in two, added an extra doom to extend the available time slightly. And introduce the new Web-Spinner enemy for the duration of the final 8 doom worth of game:

As a bit of foreshadowing for the Web-Spinners we all love and hate from the Weaver scenario, this version of them shows up early in scenario 1 now. They don’t directly add doom to the agenda like they do in Weaver, but act as a conduit from which the infestation can spread. This gives the encounter deck at least a bit of a chance of getting a breakout happening even if the players have the stairwell under their control. And it does so without being overwhelming for groups that were already struggling because it’s just an extra small enemy to kill and a +1 doom to allow for it (and then some). That extra doom on the final agenda is a concession to anyone in general who is afraid this change does make this scenario too difficult.

And that’s already it! I believe that Waking Nightmare is already one of the high points of the Dream-Eaters box, so I don’t want to shake it up too much. The Ravenous Hordes set does some heavy lifting here to make the whole thing feel significantly different until the final act when the Web-Spinner comes out to make sure there’s actually an endgame and not just a leisurely stroll for the final bits of victory points. And aside from that i am pretty happy with it so I’d rather dedicate more cards to something else.

Next Up

I said I would go to something in the A-side of Dream-Eaters next, but i changed my mind. Let’s finish talking about this side completely first. So in part 4, i want to cover my current plans for the Unofficial Return to the Point of No Return… small as they are. This is a scenario where i want to do more than i am currently but still need a good hook. Let’s talk about that next time once i’ve shown you what there is so far, though!
Also, to stay with having two topics per article, i think it’s worth talking about the ideas i have for increasing the inter-connectivity of the scenarios/the two campaign sides. And when we are talking about No Return anyways, that is a great time for it because it does have some of that in it. So I’ll throw that in as well.

4 Replies to “Designing a fan-made Return to the Dreamlands #3: Changes. And Spiders.”

  1. I just found your website, and I must say I’m very impressed with the amount and quality of the content; you are a huge asset to the AHLCG community! And while I wished FFG would have made their own version of the ‘Return to’ boxes for the final two sets (i.e., Innsmouth, Dream-Eaters) before they switched to the Campaign and Investigator box format, I’m highly grateful to what you’ve developed and will stick to these (looking forward to Dream-Eaters) and will consider them canon within my playgroup. Thank you for all of your work on this incredible game.

  2. I’ve been testing out the Freezing Blood encounter set in The Pallid Mask, and it feels like it’s working well. The only problem I’ve run into is that drawing Freezing Blood is actually really beneficial for some investigators, namely Minh, as there’s no “non-weakness” clause on Freezing Blood preventing it from blocking The King in Yellow.

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